what to clean furniture with before painting
Kristina Davis

Do you know what to clean furniture with before painting?

Although a painted rustic furniture look can be shabby chic, if you do not start with a clean and solid base, you may end up with just shabby-looking furniture.

Suppose your furniture has been in storage and has a coating of dust and dirt or has superficial damage, and you don’t clean it first.

In that case, the paint could stick to dust or dirt particles and may chip easily.

If it has scratches and gaps, this too can result in easily chipped surfaces. Cleaning and prepping your furniture is necessary to ensure a long-lasting paint job.

Prepping, sanding, and priming are all part of cleaning up your furniture before applying new paint. Follow these few steps to provide a clean foundation surface, and then let the painting begin!

Prepping your Furniture

prepping the furniture

Remove hardware, hinges, and mirrors: If any of the hardware or hinges have paint on them, you can set them in water for 24 hours, and the color should come off.

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You may be tempted to just cover the hinges with the new paint, but the end result rarely looks good.

It would also be wise to shine this hardware up before reinstalling it to give the furniture a completely refreshed look.

Fill Scratches, Holes, Dents:

fill the scratches

1. Use Wood Putty:

Use wood putty to fill imperfections on wood furniture. Putty should be used for superficial damage only.

2. Try Toothpaste:

For minor scratches on plastic, you can try a little toothpaste. Use cotton to rub it into the scratches in a circular motion.

Buff it out until it becomes a smooth surface. Rinse and let dry thoroughly. You may need to do this a few times to get the result you want.

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3. Mix Water & Baking Soda:

You could also mix equal parts of water and baking soda and use it the same way as you would the toothpaste.

4. Wet Sandpaper:

If the above options do not work, you can use wet sandpaper to gently rub out the scratches in a circular motion.

We recommend using 800-grit wet/dry sandpaper that is saturated with water. Rinse often and re-wet the sandpaper as needed.

Tip: With all of these methods, be sure not to rub too hard so as not to create more scratches.

Sanding Wood Furniture

Be sure to sand around the area where the hardware is installed. You may want to skip this step since you will be painting.

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But if you are installing new hardware, you will definitely want to smooth any indentations from your old hardware placement.

And, even if you are reusing the old hardware, your paint will look much better on a cleanly sanded surface.

sanding wood

Sand off any chips or other topical damage using a fine grit as a sanding sponge.

You may want to sand down the entire piece of furniture to remove any shine or gloss.

This will give you the best starting surface for the paint to stick. We recommend using 80 – 100 grit sandpaper if the surface is smooth; try 150 – 200 grit if it is textured.

Wrapping the sandpaper around a sanding block can be helpful to keep your grip.

If the furniture is water damaged or you are using a stain, it would be best to use an electric sander to make sure you get the smoothest and cleanest surface.

Note: When sanding, remember to always move with the grain of the wood.

What To Clean Furniture With Before Painting?

The most important thing to do is wipe clean plastic or laminate furniture.

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what to clean to furniture

If you are starting with furniture made of plastic or laminate, you will need to wipe down the surfaces with soapy water.

Be sure to let the furniture dry completely before moving on to the next step.

Clean With Bleach

If there is mold or mildew damage, a mixture of bleach and water (20/80) will be necessary to get a clean start.

Tip: Using a toothbrush can help get into some of the crevices and hard-to-reach places.

Otherwise, Scrub Lightly

Regarding wood furniture, you have a couple of options of what to clean wood furniture with before painting.

If the wood has dust or dirt on it, you can use a damp soapy rag and wipe it clean. Be sure to rinse the surface and allow it to completely dry.

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scrub lightly

If you need a bit more strength, mix equal parts of water and household vinegar with a few drops of blue Dawn liquid dishwashing soap.

Use a sponge or rag to wash the furniture, rinse, and allow it to dry.

It might be necessary to use some harsher chemicals on very dirty surfaces in order to get a clean palette.

You can try denatured alcohol (50/50 mix with water) if you will be using water-based paint like chalk, milk, latex, or acrylic paints.

Non-diluted mineral spirits are best if you plan to use oil-based paint like spray paint.

If you are dealing with things like melted wax, adhesives, or built-up finishes, you may need to use a product like Goo Gone.

Tip: Remember that these are all harsher chemicals, so be careful that you don't damage the wood with scrubbing.

Check Inside

Be sure to clean the inside of the furniture as well as the outside. This includes any drawers, sides, back, and underside.

Check for mold, cracks, or any other damage.

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It is wiser to fully clean the furniture now while you can still make necessary repairs and clean up any mess before applying your paint for wood furniture and final touches.

When Using Chalk Paint

using chalk paint

A note about what to clean furniture with before using chalk paint:

Many people feel you don’t need to do much prep if you are using chalk paint due to its thicker consistency and, therefore, its ability to cover minor imperfections.

Although not prepping is an option, again, we recommend that starting with the smoothest possible surface leads to a more uniform and better-looking paint job, regardless of the type of paint you may use.

Next Step: Primer

Primer creates a bond between the furniture and paint. If your furniture has a smooth, clear topcoat, you may not need to prime it.

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This is particularly true if using milk, chalk, acrylic, or oil-based spray paint.

Different Primers for Different Surfaces
the different primers

There are various types of primer for different materials.

Laminate or Plastic Furniture
  • You may not need to sand if the topcoat is clean, but it is important that you use the proper primer.
  • Shellac-based primer is probably the best for this type of furniture, but oil or plastic-based primers are also options.
  • Don’t use water-based primer as the paint will scratch off.
Wood Furniture
  • A spray primer works well for even coverage.
  • Use a darker primer under a darker color paint.
  • Use a white primer under a lighter color paint.
Tip: Ensure you do your priming in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhalation of the fumes. Check out the EPA's guidance on all safety practices when making home improvements.

Wood is porous, so allowing it to dry thoroughly will ensure that the cleaning materials have been soaked up completely and will not interfere with the paint adhering to the furniture.

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If the surface is damp, it could result in bubbling or other painting problems.

Final Sanding:

the final sanding

If the surface doesn’t feel smooth after the primer dries, you can do a final sanding.

Use fine gaged sandpaper and gently sand until smooth, then wipe the surface clean.

Let the Painting Begin!

Remember to follow the steps and know what to clean furniture with before painting to ensure a solid, strong, and invigorated look.

Your old furniture should now be well-prepped, smooth-surfaced, and clean! At this point, it’s up to you as to how to proceed with the actual painting.

Be sure to choose the right type of paint for your piece to complete your look.

Painting your old furniture can be a creative and fun do-it-yourself project that gives your space a refreshed feel.